The Internet has changed the entire buying process – and it affects you, even if you don’t sell anything online. Barry Trailer and Jim Dickie, writing in the Harvard Business Review, put it this way:
“Buyers have always had a buy cycle, starting at the point they perceive a need. Sellers have always had a sales cycle, starting at the point they spot a prospect. It used to be that these were in sync … [but] now, the buy cycle is often well under way before the seller is even aware there is a cycle.”
They wrote this in 2006, but still too many business owners haven’t changed the way they work!
Buyers still deal with sellers, but in a different way.
In the past, when they wanted to buy something important – whether it was insurance, real estate or their next car – they would start by talking to a professional, preferably somebody they already knew, liked and trusted. Although they might not be ready to buy immediately, this adviser (read: salesperson) would take them on a journey, guiding them to the right buying decision.
That’s no longer the case. Now, when they want something, they turn first to Google. And then perhaps they will ask their Facebook and LinkedIn friends. Or send a tweet to their followers. Or be guided by an e-mail newsletter or blog they read recently. At the end of this process, they might still choose to talk to a supplier, but now the interaction is very different. If information is power, the customer now has all the power.
Here’s an example …
For example, if you’re a car dealer, the customer who walks into your showroom is no longer relying on you to provide most of the information. Rather, she has already chosen the make and model; she has checked the Redbook.com.au Web site to determine her maximum buying price and the trade-in price for her old car; she has asked her friends for recommendations and advice; and she has arranged finance with an on-line finance company. She’s entering this negotiation holding all the cards.
Of course, that’s assuming she has chosen you! After doing all her research, she might have chosen somebody else instead – even if she was a past customer of yours. Alternatively, she might not have excluded you, but you might be just one of many dealers she is investigating.
So what can you do to cope?
You might wish for the good old days, when customers would contact you as the first step of the buying process. Of course, there’s no way to turn back the clock. However, the solution is the same in principle: Get involved earlier in the buying process.
That’s easier said than done, because you don’t know exactly when the buying process started. So the only way to be there is to always be there.
Be there in your prospective customer’s life, always delivering value and always demonstrating you’re the right person to call when they are ready to buy.